Dressed in an understated gold, silk shirt and matching dress slacks, the ensemble accentuates the green eyes and dark hair of one of the community’s most high-profile government employees, Danise Henriquez. Our county tax collector, she’s surrounded by papers in her corner office at the Harvey Government Center on Key West’s White and Truman Streets. Photographs line the windowsill, showcasing the accomplishments of her children. 20-year old Ashley is an FSU cheerleader, Alpha Delta Pi sorority girl, and poli sci major. Her son, 22-year old Ralph is on the roster of the Seattle Mariner’s Double-A Ball Club.
“Things are a little quieter around the house now,” Danise mentions when we ask about the now empty-nest she shares with her husband of 27 years, Ralph Henriquez.
At work, the whirlwind of activity is ever-present. Danise is the successor to Harry S. Knight. She served as his assistant for three years, and has been with tax collectors office for a total of 13 years, covering 122 miles from Key West to Ocean reef. Right now, the office in the midst of collecting 2009 property taxes.
“We mail them out November 1 and as of April 30, they become delinquent. We are to collect a little over $243 million dollars. We’ve already collected 70% of the tax roll,” she crunches the numbers for us.
This is the way the system works for you. Danise’s office receives a file from Ervin Higgs, the county’s property appraiser. They supply the tax roll. The tax bills are created in Danise’s office and from there mailed to the taxpayers. All of the information comes from Ervin’s office.
“We mail them out and then,” Danise reinforces, “they’re open for collection.”
She is credited for devising the “internet tax sale” for delinquent property taxes. A certificate for the unpaid property taxes is placed online and anyone, anywhere in the world can bid on the taxes. They are paid back by the property owner and collect penalties and interest to turn a profit.
She attests, “property taxes here are one of the highest in the state because of the cost of living.”
She oversees seven offices. Two in Key West, one in Big Pine, two in Marathon, one on Plantation Key, and finally Key Largo. We’re going to state the obvious, this position isn’t a nine to five gig.
“My morning stars here at 6 am. I open the office, get the coffee going for employees, read emails, run reports, and get everything ready. I leave at five pm or whenever the work is done. If my employees are here, I’m here,” she shares.
Right now she oversees a staff of nearly 60.
“I love working with my employees. I love helping them,” she says with sincerity, “we’re all a team here.”
Because Danise was amongst them for so many years, she isn’t a desk-bound boss; instead, she’s a hands-on leader who will dive into any tax task.
“I validate tax bills, I do the budget, I do everything.”
New for Danise this calendar year, the Key West and Marathon driver’s license offices. She’s taken over their operation. If she hadn’t absorbed the responsibility in the midst of state budget cuts, we all would have had to truck it to the mainland to take those lovely mug shots and driver’s tests. Danise admits this new endeavor does add to the frustrations, but her tank is fueled by a desire to help.
“Because of the laws we have, we have to abide. We do everything we can, but you have to remember we have to be compliant.”
She de-stresses and decompresses working in her yard and travels to see her children perform. Tallahassee to see her daughter cheer on the “Noles and wherever Spring training takes Ralphie. Last year the destination was Brooklyn, New York.
“I still work from my cell phone, “Danise laughs, “but not as much if I was n the office!”
The Honorable Danise Henriquez (sitting) and staff. Pictured from left to right are Angela Hitchcock, assistant tax collector; Jessica Gil, tourist development manager; Sabrina Roberts, deputy clerk; and Mercedes Knowles, delinquent deputy clerk.